The fantastic secret lives of ABBA and Eddie Murphy are revealed to the public at last in the Nobrow compilation of this cult European series.
Berlin small press collective Edition Biografiktion consists of European creators Ana Albero, Till Hafenbrak and Paul Paetzel who are unveiled to a U.K. audience for the first time in this Nobrow Press collection of their Biografiktion publications. As the title of the book suggests the bulk of the material on show here takes the cult of celebrity as a starting point and then twists it into a bizarrely distorted parody of itself. Seventies Scandinavian supergroup ABBA and comedian/Hollywood star Eddie Murphy are the targets of this good-natured ribbing which is punctuated with issues of the collective’s illustration/comics zine Human News.
The scenarios for each short story range from the straightforward (Albero’s fond but slightly tongue-in-cheek account of her favourite Eddie Murphy moments) to the indulgently weird (Paetzel takes Murphy on a deep sea dive in a mini-submarine to cure a skin condition for example). Three creators letting their imaginations run riot on deliberately dreamlike fantasies means there’s a somewhat random sensibility to the book in terms of tone (let’s avoid the tiresome reviewer fallback phrase of “hit and miss” when discussing anthologies) but it’s very easy to see why Biografiktion has achieved a cult status elsewhere in Europe. When the satire really hits the mark it’s quite frankly delicious in its delivery; Till Hafenbrak’s account of Eddie Murphy falling hopelessly in love with a female character he’s playing himself in one of his films has a witty bite to it that marks it out as one of the standout contributions in the collection.
The breaking down of the walls between reality and invention is far more pronounced in the ABBA section where Paetzel allows the pop sensations a glimpse of their destiny via a cosmic wizard, and Till Hafenbrak gives them a fairy tale secret origin where we learn of the magical powers of Benny’s beard. Hafenbrak’s art on this ABBA contribution has more than a hint of a kids story book style to it providing a visual innocence that makes his lampooning of the quartet all the more sly in its delivery.
It would be remiss indeed not to mention the Human News interludes which remind me of the self-titled Nobrow magazine’s juxtaposition of illustrative pieces and comics shorts. It’s an excellent complement to the “main attraction” showcasing the artistic styles of the individual creators via some vibrant use of colour and individual images that encompass entire narratives by themselves. Ana Albero is an artist I first discovered via Latvian comics publisher kuš and the opportunity to enjoy her entrancingly childlike figures on a larger canvas is a welcome one indeed.
Irreverent without ever being impudent, Biografiktion spoofs its subjects with a gentle sense of mockery that is both affectionate and droll. We can only hope it marks the beginning of many more such compilations of translated Euro small press material.
Ana Albero, Till Hafenbrak, Paul Paetzel (W/A) • Nobrow Press, £18.99/$29.00, June 2013